IT seems we have all forgotten about the 1994 Cork ladies’ football team that played at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, so it’s time to set the record straight.
While this Saturday’s Division 1 league clash between Cork and Westmeath at Páirc Uí Chaoimh is being billed as the first competitive fixture that the Cork ladies’ footballers will play at the county’s GAA HQ, that’s not actually the case.
This isn’t the first time a Cork ladies’ football team take to the field at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in a competitive game because 26 years ago, in 1994, Cork met Meath in an All-Ireland junior football championship semi-final at the same venue.
That junior team was the only adult Cork ladies’ football team at the time.
It was Sunday, August 28th, and it’s a day that Mary Kelleher remembers well.
The Inchigeelagh woman, who went on to win an All-Ireland club junior football title with Gabriel Rangers in 2003, was on the Cork team that lost that game to Meath (3-9 to 3-8) at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 1994.
‘We did play in Páirc Uí Chaoimh,’ she told The Southern Star, ‘and it’s a game I still remember because of the disappointment we felt afterwards.’
With 15 minutes left, Cork led 3-7 to 1-5 and were on course to book their place in the All-Ireland final.
But then, it all fell apart.
‘We were very comfortable at one stage but we let it slip. We felt we were going to do it but we left it go towards the end,’ she recalled.
Cork had led 1-6 to 1-2 at half time, with Marie Reynolds getting the goal while dual players Mary O’Connor and Fiona O’Driscoll, and Elaine Browne and Mary Buckley adding the points. Goals from Mary O’Connor and Louise Aherne helped Cork move 3-7 to 1-5 clear at the three-quarter mark, but then the wheels came off.
It’s interesting to note that Glanworth, St Ednas and Mourneabbey supplied the bulk of the players, with Ilen Rovers, Macroom, Donougmore, Inch Rovers and Lisgoold all represented too. Mary Kelleher’s club at the time was St Endas. She played with Ballingeary before that but the ladies’ team packed up when she was 18 years old and then she joined up with St Endas.
The following year, 1995, Cork went on to win the All-Ireland junior title, with Kelleher on board, beating Tyrone in the final, and that was a vital step forward for what followed in the next decade. But in the context of this weekend’s Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 1 tie between Cork and Westmeath at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, it’s important to remember the class of 1994 and their game on Leeside.
It was former Cork ladies’ football county board chairman, Francis Quill, who got in touch first to point out that this Saturday’s game at Páirc Uí Chaoimh is not, as is being widely reported, the first time a Cork ladies’ football team played there.
Then, Mary Kelleher took up the story, filling in all the blanks, thanks too to her scrapbook that she came across last summer during a clear-out. At one stage, Mary was Cork PRO, and she fought hard to get snippets and reports on newspapers.
She also kept a scrapbook, and she held on to the match programme from that 1994 All-Ireland junior semi-final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, proof that game was played there.
‘It was a different era back then, you’re talking 26 years ago, and it wasn’t cool to play ladies’ football then. Camogie was dominant, ladies’ football wasn’t,’ she said.
‘We had to work hard and fight for publicity, not like it is now, and it’s great to see ladies’ football getting all the coverage that it is now – but it was a lot different back then.
‘I remember another time when we were junior and we beat Waterford, who were All-Ireland senior champions, in a league game. In another sport that would make headlines, and now it would too because there is so much media and everyone wants a story, but it didn’t back then.’
Mary Kelleher added: ‘I felt we always had good players, we always had talented players and players who worked hard, but we didn’t have the consistency in players and training.
‘Back then you were lucky to get a field and someone to train you, so it’s fantastic that it has come on so much now.’
Mary now lives in Ballineen. These days she’s a freelance fitness instructor and worked before at Skibbereen Sports Centre – and she was also on that Cork ladies’ football team that played at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 1994. So, to correct the record, this Saturday won’t be the first time a Cork ladies’ football team has played a competitive game at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
It will be the first time a Cork senior ladies’ football team plays a competitive match there, and that is progress and hopefully this will become commonplace from now on.